COLUMBUS, Ohio — Teams of National Guard members and medical professionals will ramp up testing in nursing homes across Ohio as part of a new initiative to identify hot spots among the state’s most vulnerable population.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced the formation of 14 Congregate Care Unified Response Teams during his coronavirus briefing Tuesday.
The first goal of the initiative will be to test all staff members at Ohio’s 960 nursing homes as the state increases testing capacity, DeWine said. About 200 of these facilities have had a history with COVID-19.
Additional testing needs will be determined in advance by a combination of clinicians from local health departments and the state’s Medicaid and health departments, DeWine said. They will determine if all or part of a nursing home will need to be tested, based on a clinically-driven strategy to test those who have likely been exposed to COVID-19, starting with nursing homes that have reported past or present exposure.
From there, medically-trained National Guard members will perform the test by administering a swab to nursing home residents.
Teams will also begin testing all residents and staff members at the state’s developmental centers, DeWine said, adding, "This is an important effort to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 in congregate care settings."
Donna Skoda, Summit County Public Health Commissioner, told News 5 she is pleased with the increased nursing home testing but believes something must done to address the nursing home staffing shortage.
“The nursing home enhanced testing is something we’ve been waiting on,” Skoda said.
“If you have a positive case, they will immediately test, which again helps you further isolate and quarantine.”
“A lot of these nursing facilities struggle with staff, having enough staff on a good day, and once staff starting getting sick or put off work because they’re ill, it will create an even bigger shortage.”
Peter Van Runkle, Executive Director with the Ohio Health Care Association, agrees staffing shortages are an issue and believes the state needs to come with a plan to help address the problem.
"When employees test positive you could have 40% of the staff now gone, so folks are not going to get appropriate care and we can’t have that,” Van Runkle said
Van Runkle said the state response teams would be more effective if they centered on testing residents first because employees can better protect themselves from the virus inside skilled nursing facilities.
"The concern about that is that it’s more likely you’re going to have spread within the building to others through resident to resident contact, than you are from staff to residents because of the staff are more likely using source control,” Van Runkle said.
DeWine said that this renewed focus comes as state and local governments and the private sector continue to increase testing availability.
“This is the first time that we felt we’ve really been able to deploy with this much focus because of the testing,” DeWine said. “It’s not only the testing that we’re seeing done now, but our capacity is going up. We’re going to continue to push that capacity up. As the Guard goes out, our testing will capacity will go up. We’re in the position to do it.”
The focus on nursing homes comes out of the desire to save the most lives possible.
“To save the most lives, you clearly need to go and focus on where people are dying,” DeWine said. “And they’re dying in nursing homes. They’re dying in congregate living facilities.”
Nearly 70% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in Ohio’s nursing homes and congregate living facilities.